Senior, Sociology & Anthropology
Host location: Limerick, Ireland
Program: UK Partner Celtic Blue: University of Limerick (Arcadia)
Term: Fall 2012
Overall, on a scale from one to five, Emma rates this program a five.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
The beginning of my interest of studying abroad was my general interest in places outside of my hometown. Starting as early as 5th grade I began trying to find ways to go abroad and explore the world. My first real exposure to this sort of opportunity and my first real “push factor” came when I started getting letters from programs like “People to People” which is an “educational travel program” primarily for students in grades 5-12. I finally went abroad my first time to the UK with my high school my senior year, but it was for a short 10 days and while I enjoyed my first out of the country adventure, I still wanted a more immersive experience. I did not just want to see the Oxford University; I wanted to go there. So by the time I got to college, I already knew I wanted to study abroad. And yet, though I did not need to see the pictures from past students’ abroad experiences, the foreign cuisine days in the cafeteria, or the millions of brochures spread all over campus–these were things that kept the idea of studying abroad at the front of my mind. My final push came second semester my sophomore year when I realized it was almost too late to study abroad as I watched one of my good friends who was struggling to apply as a senior. Within a three week time span I decided not to transfer schools (which I was thinking about doing around this time), declared my major, decided to study abroad for a semester, picked a location and a school, and applied. It was the final push I needed and I could not be more happy with the decision I made.
What classes did you take and how did they apply towards your degree?
I took several New Media and Cultural Studies and an Irish Folklore class that counted towards my Sociology/Anthropology major. I had a class entirely devoted to globalization and its benefits and disadvantages on cultural sharing. It was very eye opening to hear these issues from a Western perspective that was so different from my own country’s.
What surprised you most about your host country?
I was very surprised to find out how different our school systems are from one another. I figured their post secondary education would be slightly different as far as structure, names for their class years, and testing to get into college, but the differences are far more extensive than that. Their testing to get into college is highly rigorous and some people take an entire year to prepare for it. The results from their Leaving Certificate Examinations, which is what the test is called, pretty much determine which course of study they can and cannot due, unlike here in the states where you can just pick your major. Students in college still talk about these exams a lot since they were such a large part of their life in post-secondary, but many people dislike the system because it gives students so little flexibility in switching your course of study while in college.
What is your favorite memory from abroad?
One of my favorite memories abroad was probably my home stay. I stayed on a dairy farm, got to milk a cow, and learned about how dairy farms are run. That does not actually sound very exciting, but I really loved how hands-on the experience was. It was pretty much the experience I think a lot of people think they will get when they go to Ireland, but it was really just a unexpected surprise for me.
What advice would you give to students doing a similar program?
I would advise that you get to know other people in their program, but do not stay too attached to them. I know some people that became best friends with people that were in their partner program, but because they became so attached to each other, none of them ever branched out and made friends with anybody from the country. I would suggest getting involved at the university to meet people. Native people might not seem the most inviting all the time, but if you put the effort in to make friends with them you might end up hanging with locals all the time! There are also usually tons of international students around and they are all in the same boat as you are, being in a different country and wanting to experience new things. They make for great travel buddies! That being said, make sure you travel around the country you are staying in! I know some people who went to Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, etc., but never even made it outside the county of the country they were staying in. A great way to do this is to take advantage of any excursions your partner program provides. These are almost always cheaper than planning the trips yourself and you can bond with people in your program. Finally, take at least one course that just sounds interesting to you. It might not count towards your major and you might not have any friends taking it, but it could be a great learning experience!